Restoration of the kitchen ranges

The Valentines kitchen ranges

Victorian cooking ranges were the Agas of their day. There are two iron cooking ranges in the Valentines Mansion kitchen, each fitted into an arched fireplace. The larger range is described in contemporary literature as a “Double Oven, Close-Fire Kitchener”. The smaller range is probably a bread oven.

The photograph above indicates the condition of the ranges before restoration. Below you can see the ranges after the work had been completed. The names of the benefactors for the range restoration are recorded in the Sponsorship Book that is held at the Mansion.

Work undertaken

The two Valentine ranges and their surrounding brick and stonework have been substantially restored to their original condition. They are not, however, to be used, as this would start the process of decay again. A firm specialising in ironwork restoration, Dorothea Restorations, undertook this task. We have been unable – so far – to discover any original images of a similar William Bailey and Son kitchen range. However, we have been in correspondence with a business in Mexico City that has an absolutely beautiful decorative fireplace in pride of place in their boardroom. This is also made by the firm of William Baily and Sons of Gracechurch Street.

About the ranges

The kitchener revolutionised cooking in its time. These ranges were coal fired, cast iron stoves with built in ovens and a hot plate on the top. The range evolved in the early 19th century – a product of the first industrial revolution – to replace open fires and spits. Count Rumford – Sir Benjamin Thompson – had investigated “the practical management of fire and the economy of fuel” in the home and manufacturers promoted these ranges on their fuel economy.

The Valentines range was made by William Baily and Sons of 71 Gracechurch Street in the City of London. The ranges are thought to date from about 1870, possibly from when Sarah Ingleby inherited the property on the death of her uncle, Charles Holcombe. By this time the Baily ironmongery business was being run by the sons, Charles and Henry. The exhibition catalogue shows that the Bailys had a stand at the Great Exhibition of 1851.

The Illustrated London News was a popular news journal published weekly until as recently as 1971. An article appeared in the edition of 17 May 1873 which was illustrated with a picture showing a “Lecture on Cookery at the International Exhibition”. This had a triple-hearth in the background with a range similar in style to those at Valentines. Queen Victoria attended this lecture with two of the Princesses.

Trade journals of the time show that William Baily and Sons described their business in 1840 as “Furnishing Ironmongers”. By 1870 their trade entry had become “Manufacturing and Furnishing Ironmongers, Smiths, Bellhangers, Gas Fitters & Stove, Grate and Kitchen Range & Hot Water Apparatus Makers”. Perhaps this shows just how important these items had become in the lives of the wealthy middle classes. There were certainly many firms manufacturing such ranges.

Advertisements of the time would specify a price for each kitchen range and the rental value of the house in which they might be expected to be fitted. The Valentines kitchen ranges – proposed for family residences “with an annual rental value in excess of £150” – are of a scale that would have been found in a wealthy middle-class household. The unique value of Valentines Mansion lies in it being one of relatively few surviving examples of a middle class English home of its period. The restoration of the ranges was a key event in the restoration of one of the more important historic domestic buildings in the United Kingdom.

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